Communicating about better harnessing for healthier and more productive donkeys
THE GOOD HARNESS GUIDE
GUIDE TO PACKSADDLES
© DONKEYS for AFRICA 2021
by Dr Peta Jones
Training material about harnessing.
Click on the image for a link or PDF download.
HARNESS HELP - Abbreviated PDF guide from our FB posts by Chris Garrett
When using animals such as donkeys to pull carts or implements there are a number of factors in play: obviously the harness (material, quality, design and fit), the item being pulled (construction and balancing of carts and loads, and implements), the animal itself (welfare) and then the often forgotten linking of the above: the hitching or the way in which the harness is attached to the animal, to other animals, and to the item itself.
Peta Jones comments that harness and hitching should never be regarded as separate when solutions are being sought. The damage done to donkeys is just as much due to hitching as it is to the harnesses.
The other crucial element in the team above – the owner – must be committed to ensuring that all the factors are correct and appropriate for the particular donkey(s). Hitching systems that are too complicated or time-consuming will be discarded, even with the best harnesses and carts. Perhaps “live” demonstrations for owners by hitching them in different ways to a cart and asking them to pull it will provide an understandable lesson. Do you have examples of this?
Information on hitching are in our library below.
Let us know your preferences and experiences.
IMAGE: amaTrac uluntu
MARES Donkey Sanctuary conducted successful outreach programs in Bela Bela, South Africa in conjunction with Network for Animals as well as in Victoria Falls for education on correct harnessing.
Ideally, we would like all scotch carts to be 4 wheel, not 2 wheel, which would alleviate the weight of the cart and load on the donkeys' necks. However, this is impossible so we are working with what the owners have, 2 wheel scotch carts.
In Zimbabwe, every scotch cart we see has 4 donkeys across. Part of our education is to inform the owners that only 2 of the donkeys are carrying not only the pulling weight but also the downward load. 4 donkeys will only increase the pulling weight, you cannot add extra downward load. Therefore the 2 donkeys holding the load on their necks by means of the yoke can only carry 40% of their weight.
We also educate the owners of 2 wheel donkey carts that the donkeys must be hitched to the cart by means of a swingle tree and straps (normally they use chains) that must be a minimum of 1.5m long. Each swingletree must have 2 x 1.5m chains.
Some harness knowledge-sharing from organisations in Africa:
From MARES in Zimbabwe:
Many of the donkeys' back legs are severely injured, sometimes even fractured, due to them being attached too close to the cart. It is imperative that the donkeys are attached to the front of the dusselboom (dusselboom must be 2m from front of the cart) which will allow a 50cm gap between the back of the donkey and the cart. This way, when the cart is stopped it cannot go into the donkeys as the donkeys cannot step backwards as they are attached to the end of the dusselboom.
Our most important part of our education is about the harness. 80% of all wounds found on the donkeys are from ill-fitting harnesses and of course wrongly hitched to the cart. Our harnesses can be adjusted to the size of the donkeys by means of a buckle on each strap. The positions of the straps are very important, the front strap is over the wither of the donkey and the second strap is on the strong part of the donkey's back. Our harnesses are also padded so that the material which is normally used, conveyor belting, does not chafe or cut into the donkey. This padding is fastened to the chest plate and the 2 straps with Velcro, allowing the padding to be removed for washing, drying and even replacing when worn.
From Zambezi Working Donkey Project in Zambia
LINK TO THE BROOKE SADDLEAID HARNESS INITIATIVE
DONKEY POWER HARNESSING VIDEO
by Dr Peta Jones (200MB)
LINK TO THE SPANA YOUTUBE VIDEO ABOUT HARNESSING
ZWDP - Harness Report 2021
A prototype humane harness has been tested under supervision with several farmers. People understood the benefits once these were explained to them, but the difficulty came when the owners were asked to assemble and fit the harnesses on their own. The harness could be fitted the wrong way, losing effectiveness and causing discomfort or even injury to the donkeys.
ZWDP is now working on building a saddlepack using two shaped wooden slats that will sit either side of the spine spanned by a grooved bridge in which will sit the yoke/crosstree. This will attach to the existing harness with a padded numnah underneath, made from old blankets. The team is working on how best to assemble this in a way that it can be easily modified or replaced by the donkey owners if needed. This design will tested over the next few weeks.
Vets Without Borders from Sweden is supporting ZWDP to design and test a new type of harness for use with scotch carts.
The biggest hurdle is the common single-shaft two-wheel cart design with two or more donkeys taking the burden of the load on their necks by means of a wooden yoke. The lack of understanding of the pain and distress of donkeys suffering from the terrible wounds caused, and the fact that materials suggested are too expensive for owners who live below the poverty line, are major issues.
As always the challenges of getting new designs understood, accepted and adopted are enormous. ZWDP has had a great deal of success with replacing the ox yokes with rudimentary harness made from disused conveyer belt which, when trimmed down makes a strong, durable and cheap medium with which to work. The donkeys pull through their chests rather than their necks. However, there is still considerable weight on the necks, especially when the cart is stationary.